Monday, February 15, 2016

Bourbon Steak: Power Lunching at The Americana by Michael Mina (Yes, in Glendale!)

Suburbia: a 'safe haven' typically for those who find predictability and conformity comforting.  In the food & bar space, this usually means chain restaurants serving familiar, passable middle-of-the-road fare, consistently.

The Caruso group, whether or not you're a fan, has undisputedly done a lot to disrupt the concept of a shopping mall and its potential to be a shop/eat/play destination at a much higher quality than we'd  seen in most other complexes in California.  The Americana at Brand is one example where management has strategically brought together global brands, and better diversity in sit-down dining options.

Bourbon Steak is one that I would say I am most excited about, and the biggest reasons are right there in and behind the name.  Their craft cocktail / bar program is sophisticated, especially those featuring a well curated selection of lesser known bourbon and whiskey.  And their steaks are dry-aged and I would say among the best that I've had in the city, but they don't stop at the one thing - other dishes on the menu take popular staples and elevate them to a new level with unexpected combinations of flavors, and clear pride in quality of ingredients (befitting of renowned chef Michael Mina, owner).

The first thing we encountered when seated in the elegant dining room was the Bourbon / Whiskey cart, from which Bourbon Steak offers tastings, right there tableside.  But, since we were there to check out the new lunch menu, and hadn't eaten anything that morning - we forced ourselves to wait, and do the tasting for dessert.
That of course did not stop us from checking out their cocktail list.  When our hostess (who is also the sommelier there) heard that I'd been getting into Japanese whiskys, she recommended one of the seasonal specials: Golden Crane ($18) with Akashi white oak Japanese whisky, honey, lime, and True Roots smoked ginger syrup.  A light, refreshing and instantly addictive take on the classic Penicillin.  I  loved the gorgeous, perfectly balanced smokiness that draws the nose more than the palate with the carefully controlled sweet and tart.  All in a smooth delivery that is all about levity.  If there is any another place that serves cocktails of this caliber in Glendale, they've hidden it well.  I couldn't get enough of this one and already decided we'd be back soon for another round, before we'd even gotten to the food.

As an amuse, a trio of fries came to our table with three different toppings and dipping sauces: this is a signature tray from Michael Mina, and I loved the truffle parmesan fries the most (without the sauce). (They serve a lunch-sized portion for $5)

Then there was Michael's Tuna Tartare ($19) another signature dish of the chef's, which is not your regular old found-on-every-trendy-restaurant-menu tuna tartare.  His is served with asian pear, quail egg, scotch bonnet, pinenuts, and sesame oil: an unexpected combination of spice (from the scotch bonnet chiles) and subtle sweetness (from the pear) with savory, tender yet structured morsels of fish, and crisp crunch from the pine nuts  The plate is mixed again tableside, and served with toast points. Definitely one of our favorites from the meal, and a favorite take on the dish vs anywhere in the city.

The Duck Spring Rolls ($14) at first, we were skeptical as to whether it would just be a western take on the Chinese staple, with a simple substitution of protein, but this dish was SpEcTaCuLaR.  Using a french technique, feuilles de brick, with the wrapper - that repelled fry oil - they were able to achieve a cleaner crunch, which was perfectly balanced with the freshest lettuce wraps the rolls were wrapped in.  Ginger-chili dipping sauce brought just the right amount of heat to the whole umami / subtly sweet dish.

The Chilled Crab Soba Noodles ($22) similarly mixed cuisines, with Japanese soba served with thai chili and asparagus, carrots, tomato, peanuts.  This one was pretty, and a good option for those looking for a bit of a lighter healthier dish, but not as wake-up-the-next-day-craving-seconds-good as the other appetizers.

While Bourbon Steak also offers an affordable 3-course prix fixe business lunch for $28 that allows office workers to do quick ins-and-outs, it was the Wood-Fired Grill section that really drew our attention: the Ribeye 18oz ($54 - picture to the left is just half of the steak, as I split one with  @foodventure to allow us to taste more dishes) was dry-aged in house, beautifully marbled and seared perfectly to smokey char outside, and juicy, tender, gorgeous medium rare inside.  This was definitely the best steak I'd had in the SFV, and one of the best in LA.
For those not on corporate cards / client lunches, the burger section offers relatively more affordable quality a la carte: The Blue Burger ($19) with blue cheese, caramelized onion, truffle aioli, mushroom.  The patties in Bourbon Steak's burgers are mixed with A5 wagyu, so they are super packed with luscious fat and flavor! 

This wagyu and blue cheese fan was definitely satisfied.

Aside from steak and burgers, pastas are also on the menu. We loved the flavorful Duck Bolognese ($26) with black pomodoro, fresh house made tagliatelle.

We tried the Chocolate Pot de Creme to sample a dessert (tasty), but all the anticipation had been building towards the bourbon cart for the finish! 

And yes, the bourbon cart is available for both lunch and dinner!  They will regularly put three bourbon / whiskeys on rotation, and you can get a tasting flight of all three for $30. The cart is brought tableside, with silver platters of ingredients to pair with each drink.

As you can see in the video below, each one is torched to release aromas designed to accentuate corresponding flavor profiles in each spirit.

Here are the pairings from our tasting:

  • Larceny with orange peel

  • Templeton Rye with cinnamon

  • 1792 (aged 9 years) with sugar cubes - this one was my favorite with caramel notes and the smoked sugar evoked the tops of creme brulee

To help customers discover / learn more about top shelf whiskeys, Bourbon Steak runs a special promotion, Whiskey Wednesdays, where you can taste three featured labels for $5 each. Can't think of a better way to get through hump days.

All in all, a fantastic spot for a real Mad Men style power lunch, or just a highly indulgent one when mere mortals have the occasion to splurge.  And for those who want to learn more about whiskys / bourbons from very knowledgeable, world class service staff.  Happy Hour is daily from 4-7pm which is a great time to get access to the fantastic cocktail program as well.

With Hollywood heavyweights like Disney, Warner Bros, Universal and Technicolor all in the surrounding neighborhoods, I could definitely see Bourbon Steak being a go-to for power lunches, client dinners and elevated happy hour.

Deals alert: 

*Disclaimer: this meal was hosted.


Bourbon Steak
237 S Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA 91204
Ph: 818.839.4130


Parking:  Structure at The Americana at Brand

Look for reservations (and rewards points!) at OpenTable.


Bourbon Steak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sweet Heart Dessert House: True Love for Hong Kong Style Desserts

Not one for over-commercialized holidays, even for Palentine's just for the sake of an alternative during this sometimes challenging day for singles, today for me is more about indulging in and celebrating all manners of sweets.  And a recent favorite that hopefully more people will get to know and frequent is Sweet Heart Dessert House in Rosemead.  The owners are originally from Hong Kong, and seeing that while there were plenty of desserts being served in the San Gabriel Valley, that there were not many cafes to be found that are dedicated to Hong Kong style desserts. So, major disclaimer here that I may be biased as I grew up with these dishes and like the owners have been yearning for more places to serve them truly Hong Kong style.

So, first things first, given the focus of Sweet Heart they of course could not go without serving the iconic / nostalgic snack: Hong Kong Egg Waffle ($4) - while you can find these at Tasty Garden and several other restaurants in the SGV, I find Sweet Heart's version to be a bit more substantial / weighty in a good way while the outer shell is still nicely grilled to a delicate golden brown crisp.

Sweet Heart then gets creative with the egg waffle and offers various fondues built around the item, like chocolate fondue with egg waffles and fruit.  Need to try these next time I'm back.
The item that really jumped out as something I have yet to see on any other menu in the SGV is:  Deep Fried Milk Custard ($5.50).  While the name is quite literal, its simplicity belies the instantly addictive deliciousness that await. Various cultures have their own versions of this.  But I associate it with Hong Kong as this was one of my favorite desserts as a kid, probably partly due to my fascination with how "Fried Fresh Milk" (the literal name in Cantonese) could possibly happen - milk is liquid!  How can it be fried?  And what culinary wizardry must happen to make it taste so amazing (even to someone who hated milk in liquid form)?!  Every bite is fragrant crisp crunch yielding to hot, silky pudding-like decadence inside - just the right amount of sweet to balance the slight savory of the outer shell.

Apparently, the trick is to actually use milk custard (milk thickened with cornstarch with sugar added) so that it doesn't liquefy too quickly during the deep fry process.  The custard is cooled, then cut into cubes, battered, then deep fried.

While everything will ever taste immeasurably better through the lens of nostalgia, Sweet Heart's version does a commendable job of measuring up to my childhood memories (the first time, on a subsequent visit the custard had not softened enough and was a bit chewy - so full disclosure that consistency may be an issue, though Sweet Heart has only been open less than a year and may just need to find their rhythm).

Sweet Heart also has many mango based sweet soup desserts with various fixings that in concept remind me of HK dessert dynasties like Hui Lau San and Honeymoon Dessert, a perfect mix of traditional Chinese ingredients like bird's nest, glutinous rice and grass jelly, and modern western ingredients like cold fruit and boba.

Sweet Heart's menu is more focused, and as a young small boutique business they have a ways to go to find the right variety on their menu, but the quality is already far and above other longer-standing / more popular hotspots (yes, I'm looking at you Phoenix Desserts, which no, I'm not the biggest fan of).  The Mango Pomelo Sago Sweet Soup in Ice Bowl ($8) is a great case in point: every element tastes fresh and is served with generosity - there are juicy cubes of mango in abundance, and the balance of mango puree to coconut cream is skillfully controlled for a pleasing, light airy yet creamy at the same time consistency.  The sago (tapioca) is also fresh tasting and perfectly soft yet still structured.

And, they take it to the next level by presenting the soup in an ice bowl - which not only makes for a fun visual but also helps keep the soup chilled.  One of my favorites in the SGV, and it's been fantastic every time.

So, if you're looking for an off-the-beaten-path place to take your SO, pals or family this Valentine's Day - I'd definitely recommend Sweet Heart Dessert House. They're conveniently open late, til midnight seven days a week!

Bonus tips:  In the same plaza, there is Noodle Boy, another favorite of mine for authentic, soul-soothing Hong Kong style wonton noodle soup, and a modern tea house in the back that I also love: Le Arbre.  They have a giant menu of various teas that you can add boba, pudding, and flavored jellies to.  My favorite is iced Osthmanthus Green Tea with Lychee Jelly. Note both Noodle Boy and Le Arbre are cash only, which is probably also why they are able to keep prices very affordable.  So, make your own progressive casual HK style meal adventure: dinner at Noodle Boy, dessert at Sweet Heart, then tea at Le Arbre!

Sweet Heart Dessert House on a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience -  6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Sweet Heart Dessert House 

8522 E Valley Blvd.,  Unit 106, Rosemead, CA 91770
Ph: 626.280.1618

Facebook page:  
Parking: free, in attached strip mall open air parking

Le Arbre Tea House

8508 E Valley Blvd., Unit 101, Rosemead, CA 91770
Ph: 626.307.8818


Monday, February 8, 2016

Giveaway: WIN 2 Tickets to LA Weekly The Essentials February 20th!

LA Weekly's annual event featuring some of the best restaurants in LA (as featured in the 99 Essentials list) is coming to DTLA in a few weeks, and I'm offering readers a chance to win a pair of tickets right here!

See details on the event below, and enter for a chance to win at the bottom of this post!

What: LA Weekly's signature food and wine extravaganza curated by award-winning food critic Besha Rodell: taste signature bites from select restaurants from the 99 Essentials list while enjoying wine, cocktails and beer and checking out artisanal vendors.

When: Saturday, February 20th, from 6pm-10pm (VIP Hour 5pm – 6pm)

Where: California Market Center, 110 E 9th St., Los Angeles, CA 90079

How much:
  •  General Admission: $70 (now until February 19th at 5pm) Door: $75*
  • VIP (Difference from GA: 1 hour early entry + VIP gift bag): $105 (now until February 19th at 5pm) Door: $110*
*If available.

Anticipated drool factor: 100%, perfect for those who want to sample before committing to a full dinner at some of the hottest / best and some of my favorite restaurants in the city including Providence (which you won't see at very many other food events like this!), Broken Spanish, Cassia, SqirlLA, ink, Le Comptoir, animal, Baroo, Chengdu Taste, Republique, and Redbird!

Buy tickets here: 

Event site:

*****ENTER TO WIN TWO TICKETS (GA) TO THE EVENT! Just follow instructions in the widget below.*********

(Remember to click on the green button after you complete each item: this is the only way for your entry to be recorded!)

Giveaway runs through February 13th at midnight PST. Good luck!

Note: winner and guest will need to present a current driver's license or passport verifying their age (must be 21+ by 12/7) in order to enter the event. Winner will be randomly selected, and contacted via the email address provided at point of entry, as soon as the giveaway ends, and must reply to confirm receipt and correct contact info by February 13th at 11:59pm PST.  If the winner does not reply by this deadline, another entrant will be chosen at random and tickets will be given to the alternate winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Disclaimer: LA Weekly is providing two tickets to One More Bite for the purpose of covering the event. 


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